Doing for others: Local students help the hungry

Iona Wildt, 92, of Mount Jackson, empties a cup of rice while Garrett LaJack, 11, of Mount Jackson, holds a plastic bag to catch the contents in an assembly line at Stonewall Jackson High School on Monday. Volunteers helped package 5,000 meals of beans and rice to benefit Luke's Backpack and the New Market Food Pantry. Rich Cooley/Daily

QUICKSBURG – AmeriCorps VISTA, the White House Rural Council and the Department of Education helped local students package food at Stonewall Jackson High School in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service.

The packaged food will benefit hungry kids in Shenandoah County through Luke’s Backpack and the New Market Food Pantry. The event’s goal was to package 5,000 meals for local children. The meals consisted of apples, rice and various beans and was packaged by about two dozen local Shenandoah County students from preschool to high school levels.

Maira Haley, 5, of Quicksburg, said she feels good about helping other kids in her community.

“I like being with my friends,” she added as she worked with other local students.

Stonewall Jackson High School Principal Mike Dorman said he hopes this event forms new friendships and partnerships within the community and helps provide for those who would go hungry without support.

Lucy Johnson, U.S. Department of Education's deputy assistant secretary for rural outreach, helps package beans and rice inside the cafeteria at Stonewall Jackson High School in Quicksburg on Monday. Rich Cooley/Daily

“There’s a real need. There is poverty in our community,” he said.

Max Finberg, director of AmeriCorps VISTA, said that the Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service is a way to honor King by serving others.

He said that his organization, AmeriCorps VISTA, Volunteers In Service To America, is a domestic peace corps that helps fight poverty in America.

“VISTA is very focused on poverty and some of the symptoms of poverty, so hunger, education, economic development,” he said.

“We’ve got to help each other,” he added.

Matthias Fineberg, 7, of Takoma Park, Maryland, son of AmeriCorps director Max Fineberg, labels packages of beans and rice that were assembled on Monday. Rich Cooley/Daily

Doug O’Brien, senior adviser of the White House Rural Council, was also part of the event and said his council was formed a year ago when President Obama asked the Secretary of Agriculture to take on a new priority of rural child poverty because a “strong America depends on a strong rural America.”

Lucy Johnson, deputy assistant secretary of Rural Outreach with the Department of Education, helped with the packaging and said that all across the county people are participating in service events and opportunities.

“In rural places, many of the times, that center of that community, the center that they are all gathering around, is the local high school or local elementary school. So it’s so important that we lift our schools in rural places. Because schools don’t serve as schools in small towns, they serve as community centers, meeting halls,” she said.

Leading the demonstrations on how to package the food was Rick McNary, vice president of public and private partnerships with Outreach International.

“You’re going to have a lot of fun doing good today,” he told the kids.

Max Fineberg, left, director of AmeriCorps VISTA, encourages volunteers as they prepare to package 5,000 meals of beans and rice for Luke's Backpack and the New Market Food Pantry. Rich Cooley/Daily

He said that Outreach program works seven days a week all over the U.S. on events like this.

“The real power of this is you can engage people of all ages and build a community,” he added.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com

Joey Kohrs, 7, of Conicville, checks the seal on a bag of beans and rice. Rich Cooley/Daily

Abby LaJack, 8, of Mount Jackson, weighs a bag of beans and rice before it is sealed in the assembly line operation on Monday. Rich Cooley/Daily